More and more people each month are signing up for food stamp benefits. Richmond localities can expect an increase of more than 25 percent in monthly cases this year, according to projections based on data from the Virginia Department of Social Services.
Henrico and Chesterfield counties (including Colonial Heights) will see an increase between 35 percent and 40 percent this year. Richmond City will see an increase of about 25 percent. The number of new cases each month is growing more rapidly in the suburban counties than the city.
Last year, Chesterfield averaged 6,487 cases per month; Henrico, 7,137; and Richmond, 15,523.
The Department of Social Services doesn’t collect demographic information on food stamp recipients, so Marsha Sharpe, assistant director of benefit programs, can only speculate on the individuals behind the rising numbers.
“We hear more often from the stories that people tell when they come in that [new applicants] are in hourly wage jobs – this would be your auto mechanics, your hair stylists, people in retail – whose hours are being cut back, or they’re being laid off,” she said.
“Typically, food stamps over the years have been administered to people who are elderly, disabled or have other issues going on. Now we’re seeing more of the hourly wage workers.”
Food stamps are entirely funded through the federal government’s food stamp program, recently renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. According to federal statistics, as of February, one in 10 Americans – a record-setting total of 32.5 million people – was a food stamp recipient. For fiscal 2008, a total of $17.7 million in benefits was issued to residents of Chesterfield County and Colonial Heights. Henrico County benefits totaled $22.38 million, and Richmond beneficiaries received $44.69 million.
Starting in April, the food stamp program received a temporary 13 percent increase under the economic stimulus act. The act did not change eligibility requirements, and the increase will not necessarily be administered across the board to all clients. Each case is individually analyzed by the Department of Social Services on the basis of income, housing, medical expenses and other factors to determine the benefit amount.
This story first ran in the Chesterfield Observer, which is a news partner with Richmond BizSense. BizSense reporter Al Harris contributed to this reporter.